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"Portlandia" Season Three DVD Review

Portlandia: Season Three DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Portlandia: Season Three (2012-13)
Show and DVD Details

Executive Producers: Jonathan Krisel, Andrew Singer, Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Lorne Michaels

Writers: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Jonathan Krisel, Bill Oakley / Director: Jonathan Krisel

Regular Cast: Fred Armisen (Fred Armisen, Peter, Candace, Dave, Royce, voice of Rat, Nina Carrico, Spyke, Malcolm Singer, Bryce Shivers, Doug, Pedicab Driver, Trey, Joaquin, James, Son, and Various Others), Carrie Brownstein (Carrie Brownstein, Nance, Toni, Kath, Alicia, voice of Rat, Lance Oliver, Iris, Kris Singer, Lisa Eversman, Claire, Mother, and Various Others)

Recurring Cast Members: Chloλ Sevigny (Alexandra), Kyle MacLachlan (Mr. Mayor), Jim Gaffigan (Donald), Matt Lucas (Stu), Roseanne Barr (Mrs. Mayor), Henry Cottrell (Ronald D. Moore), Evelyn Murray (Renee Moore), John Levenstein (voice of John the Rat), Mayor Sam Adams (Mayor's Assistant Sam)

Notable Guest Stars: Bobby Moynihan (Robert), Jack White (Musician), Ellen Bloodworth (Naptime Supervisor, Hotel Guest), Mikel Chase (Paul Thomas S.), Kurt Loder (Himself), Matt Pinfield (Himself), Tabitha Soren (Herself), Calais Radcliff (Skylar Tiffany Thomas), Jeff Goldblum (Doily Shoppe Salesman), Martina Navratilova (Herself), Dana Millican (Television Enthusiast), No Doubt (Themselves), Kumail Nanjiani (Bank Loan Officer, Power Company Representative), Mike O'Brien (Birthday Party Loan Applicant), Patton Oswalt (Thor83), Maria Thayer (Birthday Party Loan Applicant), Matt Berry (Squiggleman), Juliette Lewis (D'arcy), George Wendt (George Healey), J Mascis (Jay), Dirty Projectors (Themselves), Rose Byrne (Fred's Girlfriend), Chase Offerle (Chase), Erin McGarry (Furniture Maker's Girlfriend), Bill Hader (Birdman)

Running Time: 249 Minutes (11 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14 on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Season 3 Airdates: December 14, 2012 - March 1, 2013
DVD Release Date: July 9, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.95
Two single-sided discs (1 DVD-9 & 1 DVD-5) / Thin Cardboard Book in Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray ($24.95 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video: SD, HD

Buy Portlandia: Season Three from Amazon.com: DVD • Blu-ray • Instant Video (SD, HD)

Last summer, "Portlandia" must have caught many TV experts and prognosticators off-guard when it picked up Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing and Directing for a variety series.
It didn't win either award, but to even have competed among the likes of "The Colbert Report", "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart", and "Saturday Night Live" was a major and well-deserved honor for this little IFC sketch comedy series.

Unexpected and significant though it may have been, that recognition doesn't seem to have had any effect on Season Three, which was already mostly in the bag when Emmy nominees were announced. Under the skillful direction of their fellow writer, creator and executive producer Jonathan Krisel, stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein continue to portray a variety of eccentric residents of the Pacific Northwest's open-minded, environmental third most populous city. Most of the characters are pairs that viewers have come to know and love over the course of the first two short winter seasons. Some of the most prominent double acts are given storylines that run throughout Season Three. There are also plenty of standalone bits as well as many callbacks and returning guest stars, all of which evoke and play with Portland's reputation as a cultured, easygoing metropolis.

Dave (Fred Armisen) and Kath (Carrie Brownstein) tape themselves assembling a tent in their backyard. Alicia (Carrie Brownstein) and Royce (Fred Armisen) promote alternatives to cow's milk in their Portland Milk Advisory Board PSAs.

A month before the season's usual January launch, there aired "Winter in Portlandia", a quasi-holiday special of standard episode length that was freely distributed on iTunes. That is presented here as merely the first of eleven consistently entertaining episodes. While all sketch comedy is hit and miss (even the famous long-running one that occupies a more significant chunk of Armisen and "Portlandia" executive producer Lorne Michaels' calendars), "Portlandia" is far more hit than miss. Season Three's top sketches may not be quite as hilarious as Season Two's best, but they still delight thoroughly with their offbeat pacing and appealing characterizations. "Portlandia" is, seemingly effortlessly, a highbrow sketch show, whose impressive production values, satiric qualities, and lack of a laugh track give it a refinement befitting of the IFC brand and of the creators' sensibilities. It's a show fueled by silliness, but not the pop culture and impression-based kinds that quickly date "SNL" episodes.

Admittedly, I do not watch a great deal of contemporary television comedy, unable to see the appeal in CBS' popular traditional sitcoms or to commit to the edgier single-camera shows you'll find on ABC and NBC. The only show I kept up with for the 2012-13 season was "Parks and Recreation." "Portlandia" definitely would have been the second if IFC allowed complete episodes to go on Hulu or I had more reason to maintain a cable subscription. Instead, this was the first season of "Portlandia" I first caught on home video (and sadly the first seen on DVD, rather than the Blu-ray requested). The medium obviously makes for a pleasant first viewing and makes it easy for me to declare this show to my taste as still one of the most enjoyable shows on television.

The best storyline that runs through Season Three involves milquetoast middle-aged couple Peter and Nance turning their home into a barely functional bed and breakfast. Other threads follow Mr. Mayor (the always charming Kyle MacLachlan) abandoning his post in the wake of a power usage scandal and his friends/confidants/advisors Fred and Carrie both entering into a relationship with Alexandra (Chloλ Sevigny), a Seattle woman they invite to become their third roommate. Past "Winter", every episode also features a PSA from the Portland Milk Advisory Board announcing new alternatives to cow's milk that are never without some dangerous complications.

Here is a closer look at Season Three's episodes:

Peter (Fred Armisen) finds it difficult to give up pasta in "Winter in Portlandia." Spyke and Iris enlist '90s MTV hosts Tabitha Soren, Kurt Loder, and Matt Pinfield in an effort to "Take Back MTV."

Disc 1

1. Winter in Portlandia (22:37) (Originally aired December 14, 2012)
Peter goes through pasta withdrawal in an effort to lose weight. Portland residents seize every bit of winter sunlight. Bryce and Lisa promote their Outlet Hotel. Stu's Stews stew cart has trouble attracting business. A woman (Ellen Bloodworth) oversees a post-lunch naptime in an office. Candace's son asks her to watch his newborn baby at the feminist bookshop. A man shows off his recording studio full of Pet Sounds gear.

2. Take Back MTV (22:37) (Originally aired January 4, 2013)
Spyke and Iris enlist Kurt Loder, Tabitha Soren, and Matt Pinfield to restore MTV from its current slate of tween-oriented reality programming.
Millennials can't stop dancing. A yoga student lets her fantasies about a classmate run wild. A meeting to rename a street breeds disagreements. Dave and Kath make a video setting up a tent in their backyard.

3. Missionaries (22:37) (Originally aired January 4, 2013)
The Mayor enlists Fred and Carrie to recruit Seattle residents to move to Portland. A mother and son advertise their ineffective, non-toxic, all-natural hygiene products. No one wants a pedicab ride. Peter and Nance hit the doily shop (curated by Jeff Goldblum) in anticipation of opening up a B & B. Couples talk television with concerns of spoilers. Toni and Candace track down a woman who gave their bookstore a negative review on Yelp who happens to be tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

4. Nina's Birthday (22:37) (Originally aired January 11, 2013)
Nina plans her own elaborate 32nd birthday party, which one couple needs a loan to attend. Thor83 (Patton Oswalt) attracts fame for his funny evite replies.

Portland's new mayor (Roseanne Barr) swiftly eliminates the things that make Portland great in "The Temp." A Portland Steampunk society crashes a fanfic reading in "Soft Opening."

5. Squiggleman (22:37) (Originally aired January 18, 2013)
Hipster parents set out to make quality children's music, but cannot compete with the beloved Squiggleman ("The IT Crowd"'s Matt Berry). "The More You Knerd" PSA bemoans "nerd" usage. The Singers try raw food and a fart patio. Candace roasts Toni. Carrie can't shake her one-night stand.

6. Off the Grid (22:37) (Originally aired January 25, 2013)
The Mayor goes off grid after a reporter (George Wendt) discovers his excess energy consumption (a printer producing error messages for ten years and counting). Stop-motion sea creatures celebrate Portland's plastic bag ban. A battle of the gentle bands rewards quiet music. The Portland Tribune is taken over by bloggers. An inspector assesses Peter and Nance's prospective B & B. Sacramento-bound Gutterpunks look into a long-missing cat.

7. The Temp (22:37) (Originally aired February 1, 2013)
The Mayor's temporary replacement (Roseanne Barr, a poor fit for the show) settles into the post with help from Fred and Carrie, before promising sweeping change. A "gay" wedding is shut down. A group of baristas draw up a manifesto at an underground meeting. The sun makes Kath and Dave regret eating outside. A hippie band member keeps mysteriously disappearing. The stop-motion rats take offense to humans' book on them and strike back with a publication of their own.

8. Soft Opening (22:37) (Originally aired February 8, 2013)
Peter and Nance hold a soft opening for their B & B in which their guests are Stu's Stews workers (Jim Gaffigan and Matt Lucas) and "Battlestar Galactica" "writer" Ronald D. Moore (Henry Cottrell) and his wife (Evelyn Murray). A boy shows off his Rube Goldberg machine. Portland Monthly profiles a furniture maker. A Steampunk society convenes at a hotel. For their third date, Fred takes his girlfriend (Rose Byrne) on a short trip to Italy.

Two of the three stop-motion rats go searching for a new place to call home in "No Fo-O-Fo-Bridge." When the lights go out in "Blackout", an unregistered guest, Australian survival expert Birdman (Bill Hader), is there to help.

Disc 2

9. Alexandra (22:36) (Originally aired February 15, 2013)
Fred and Carrie share a Bastille Day date with their cultural tease roommate Alex. Fred and Carrie find themselves in the middle of elaborate art projects. A movie theater's concession stand offers artisan food.
A punk house is toured as an historical landmark, complete with a convincing re-enactor. An office worker has his desk transformed with Japanese toys. Kath and Dave come to understand the perspective of coyotes.

10. No Fo-O-Fo-Bridge (22:36) (Originally aired February 22, 2013)
In the midst of a food shortage, the rats look for a new home. A couple tries out various baby-raising techniques. A couple tries to see a documentary about escalators at a giant multiplex full of them. Alex dumps Carrie in a communal table restaurant, complicating the home situation for them and Fred. The students of an inspiring college professor encourage him to try a different line of work.

11. Blackout (22:36) (Originally aired March 1, 2013)
This episode extends the show's streak of ambitious, cinematic season finales. It wraps up threads that ran through the season while exploring the chaos that ensues from a city-wide blackout sparked by unpaid electric bills. While Fred and Carrie find the Mayor being revered as a god by a small civilization, an Australian survival expert Birdman (Bill Hader) tries to keep things calm at Peter and Nance's B & B.

Peter and Nance serve breakfast at the soft opening of their B & B to the Moores, Stu (Matt Lucas), and Donald (Jim Gaffigan).


Having previously only seen and reviewed "Portlandia" in high definition, I found this DVD sent for review slightly disappointing in the picture department. While the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation did not suffer from any particular calamity (although certain establishing shots exhibited shimmering on my television), the softer, less vibrant video noticeably lacked the detail and clarity I was used to.

Likewise, the plain Dolby 2.0 stereo mix felt a tad lackluster, even if past Blu-rays have employed the same basic sound format. It's worth noting that this season includes a scattering of mild profanity. Infrequently-used S-words (what I believe is a first for the show) go unbleeped, though a couple of F-words remained censored as they presumably were on air.

In another disappointment, the DVD employs closed captioning, not subtitles. As a result, the increasingly standard HDMI cable connection renders the captions inaccessible.

Carrie and Fred rapidly make themselves over for Alex with hats and a Paul Pierce jersey in this deleted scene. Kumail Nanjiani stares down a chicken in the first of nine "Kumail Tours Portlandia" shorts.


VSC's Season Three DVD release goes lighter on bonus features than its two predecessors.

First up, we get two amusing deleted scenes. One (3:37) finds both Fred and Carrie
changing their appearances and personalities to appease their new roommate Alexandra. The other (2:26) finds an office left with a wealth of Earth Day merchandise after people reject the environmental holiday.

Beyond those, we get nine "Kumail Tours Portlandia" shorts (24:43) that take us around Portland for looks at some weird and trendy sites influencing the series. Recurring guest star Kumail Nanjiani serves as host and interviewer in these fun and enlightening remote bits slightly reminiscent of "Da Ali G Show" and "Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule." Portland residents/"Portlandia" guest stars join Nanjiani as he profiles a chicken refuge, feminist bookstore, float tank facility, female-friendly sex toy boutique, Steampunk society, tattoo/piercing parlor, tiny home, vegan strip club, and doughnut shop.

The main menu plays clips in a closer version of the cover pose while theme song "Feel It All Around" by Washed Out plays. Submenus are static and silent.

The packaging remains consistent with past releases, employing once again a slim, environmental cardboard folder and sleeve.

This movie theater sells artisan food at their concession stand.


"Portlandia" maintains the high quality of its first two seasons in its funny third outing. This offbeat IFC comedy obviously won't be to everyone's tastes, but those who enjoy it will really enjoy it, revisiting it, recommending it, and anticipating its return (10-episode fourth and fifth seasons have already been ordered!). The Season Three DVD isn't overflowing with extras, but the fine half-hour complements the highly enjoyable and rewatchable four-hour feature presentation. If you are a proud owner of Seasons 1 and 2, then you shouldn't hesitate adding this newest release to your collection in your preferred format.

Buy Portlandia: Season Three from Amazon.com: DVD / Blu-ray / Instant Video: SD / HD

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Portlandia: Season One • Portlandia: Season Two • Portlandia: Season Four
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Reviewed July 8, 2013.

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